The time of year is approaching when residents of Southwest Colorado are likely to encounter more tarantulas than usual. It’s not uncommon to see the hairy eight-legged creatures scurrying across the road or in search of potential mates during late-summer and early-fall.
During this time of year, the male Grand Canyon Black Tarantula wanders randomly in search of a mate, hoping to find a match before its extensive two-month journey ravages its delicate body.
There has been extensive coverage of the “migration” seen in southeastern Colorado, but it’s not a migration but rather the local tarantulas coming out of their burrows, said Brent Hendrixson, a professor of biology at Millsaps College in Mississippi, who has been studying tarantulas for almost 25 years. The “migration” in Southwestern Colorado is similar but does not feature the same species of tarantula, nevertheless, local male tarantulas are getting ready to find a mate or two. A male tarantula will wander about a half mile in a day searching for a female tarantula to court.
“The distance that they’re walking, relative to their body size, that would be the equivalent of a human walking maybe from Durango to Cortez or something like that,” Hendrixson said.
While mating season has started for some, the peak for this tarantula’s mating season is late-September into early-October, and if temperatures are favorable, stragglers are often seen in November and December, Hendrixson said.
“The mating season for both (Southwest Colorado and southeast Colorado) species is actually fairly similar,” Hendrixson said. “They’re both considered “fall-breeders,” but it’s not uncommon to see males of both moving in late-August or early-September.”
When a male tarantula comes across the burrow of a potential mate, he will court her by vibrating and slapping the ground with his legs, but this could go horribly wrong if she isn’t interested.
“She could try to eat him,” Hendrixson exclaimed.
The best time for viewing the phenomenon is during daylight hours when tarantulas are out mating; the optimal time is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., because by 2 p.m., the males hunker down for the day.
Hendrixson said it’s possible to see them moving in town, but development destroys their habitats, so going out on highways and county roads will probably yield better results.
It’s most common to see tarantulas moving in sagebrush scrub or pine forest. Hendrixson said he has found them on U.S. Highway 491 east of Dove Creek heading toward eastern Utah. He also said the environment surrounding the U.S. Highway 160 corridor between Durango and Cortez is good for tarantulas, but he has not personally encountered them on that stretch of road.
Tarantulas are harmless to humans and their pets but can shoot tiny hairs when stressed, causing irritation that could last for several hours.
Stings and bites from tarantulas can be dealt with like a bee sting, but there will be localized redness and irritation, said Craig Beauchamp, store manager at Fish Connection in Durango.
Both Hendrixson and Beauchamp don’t recommend picking up one of the eight-legged arachnids, not because they will hurt people but because people could injure one of the delicate creatures. Tarantulas have a thin exoskeleton and consist of hair and skin and can be injured if someone holds one and tosses it out of shock.
Hendrixson said Durango’s tarantula variety is not as conspicuous as those in southeast Colorado, but there are likely the same number of creepy crawlies roaming for a mate.
“I think it’ll be pretty obvious if you see them on the road,” Hendrixson said. “If you see something kind of a bigger, black thing crawling across the road, it’s probably one of these male tarantulas.”